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Posts tagged “Book Reviews

Steampunk Book Review: “Warlord of the Air”

Warlord of the Air coverI recently learned a totally amazing word. “Vellichor” was invented by John Koenig to mean “the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time…”  I am sure many of you have experienced this even if you didn’t have the word for it. I have been away from the United States for a year now, I am definitely in used bookstore withdrawal. I miss going on my little treasure hunts for science fiction and fantasy books, and of course, Steampunk books in particular. It seems an especially apt word for today’s review of a book that is also focused on the passage of time (or in fact, times).

I managed to pick up a yellowing copy of The Warlord of the Air just before I left America, and I have been carting it around from country to country. I finally got a chance to read it on a long day of travel as I was leaving Sofia, Bulgaria and it was well worth the wait. This is the first in Michael Moorcock’s A Nomad of the Time Streams trilogy, which were published between 1971 and 1981.

The tale is framed as a story that was told to Moorcock’s fictional grandfather of the same name, who recorded Bastable’s adventure while on holiday on a tiny island in 1903. He sees Bastable for the first time when he is forcibly ejected from a ship where he had stowed away, and is left to fend for himself. As much out of boredom as charity, “Moorcock Sr.” takes the stranger under his wing and invites him to come back to his hotel for a meal. After some coaxing, Bastable starts to tell him about his life, and they end up locked in the room for three days while the story is recorded.

At the outset, Bastable is on a peace-keeping mission for the British army in 1902. He and a few other officers are invited into the sacred city of Teku Banga to negotiate with the king who reigned over this millennia-old society. They are led into the labyrinthine Palace of the Future Buddha and drugged by their host. When Bastable realizes the trick, and the others flee the chamber where they are eating with the king, and soon become lost in the tunnels under the palace. Something happens to him in the pitch-blackness and he loses consciousness.

Airship PericlesWhen he awakes, he simply believes that there has been an earthquake, but the truth is far stranger than he could have imagined. The city around him lies in ruins, but this is old destruction and his clothes hang off him in aged tatters. Eventually, he finds out that he was been somehow transported to the year 1973, but no 1973 that you or I might recognize. The British Empire has continued to grow and flourish in the absence of WWI, spreading “civilization” throughout the globe. But as Bastable finds after joining the Airship police, the peace is only surface-deep and in many places terrorists and rebels are trying to throw off the yolk of oppression.

Alternate histories are some of my absolute favorite stories to read, and this one did not disappoint. It was fairly short, but also very insightful, which is an excellent combination. Moorcock has a unique perspective on history, both real and invented, and I definitely recommend that you give his work a try. I recently started reading a new compilation of short stories called The Time Traveler’s Almanac, and I was also thoroughly delighted by Moorcock’s Pale Roses.  I look forward to getting back to the States in a few months, where I can resume my hunt for the rest of Moorcock’s books in the series.

Have you ever read anything by Moorcock? What did you think?


Steampunk Book Review: The Poison Belt

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One of my all time favorite literary characters is Professor Challenger, who I’m afraid is forever doomed to be overshined by Conan Doyle’s better known protagonist, Sherlock Holmes. Challenger is every bit as smart as Sherlock, but is both more pompous and more energetic than the great detective, and I find myself laughing out loud at his over-the-top confidence and sharp wit on a regular basis while reading.

The Poison belt came out in 1913, and centers on the same cadre of adventurers from the first book. They are having a reunion at Challenger’s country home a few years after their great discovery of the The Lost World. Unfortunately, what is meant to be a lovely weekend is interrupted by nothing less than the end of the world as we know it. It begins with what appears to be an infectios disease, but Professor Challenger riddles out the truth, that aether is to blame.

book coverThe prevailing theories during the “steam era” about the medium that makes up our universe all centered on aether. It fills those empty spaces between everything, and influences the effects of light and gravity. During the story our planet passes through a belt of this mysterious substance that is totally antithetical to animal life, and there is no telling how long we will be subject to the effects of the this poison belt. Our heroes watch as one by one the people in the fields, the birds in the sky and the horses pulling carriages all drift into their final rest, while they attempt to prolong their own lives for a few precious hours within an oxegenated environment.

pb-04I don’t usually like to give away the endings or twists in the books I review, but it is evident that the human race must somehow survive considering the reader is in fact both human and alive, but while reading the protagonists see no means of escape and spend much of their time reflecting on the meaning of life and human beings’ place in the universe. This may seem a depressing subject matter, but Conan Doyle does a good job of keeping the meloncholy in check and balancing it with the banter of the characters and the giddiness that comes from the aether entering one’s system.

It’s a nice, short little book which is widely available for free download because it is no longer in copyright. The Mister and I read it in a matter of hours and we both really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to read the next Challenger title, The Land of Mist.


Steampunk Book Review: Clockwork Princess (Infernal Devices 3)

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Even though all three of Casandra Clare’s Infernal Devices books came out between 2009-2013, I didn’t get around to reading the third one until now. This is not to say that I wasn’t excited to find out the conclusion, but I didn’t get a chance to pick it up before I left the English-speaking world for a spell. You can imagine my elation when I found an ample English language section in a local Sofia, Bulgaria bookstore the other day and Clockwork Princess was waiting for me! Even though it comes in at 507 pages, I tore right through it in a couple of days. It is a totally satisfying wrapping-up of the plot lines from the first two books.

Clockwork-Princess-alternative cover

Alternative cover design featuring Nina Dobrev

The book begins with a confrontation between the London Institute and the giant worm demon that Benedict Lightwood has become due to his affliction with “demon pox.” His sons, Gabriel and Gideon, as well as Will’s shadowhunter-in-training sister, Cecily, accompany Will, Jem and Tessa to the Lightwood estate. In the interim since events of Clockwork Prince came to a close, the Magister and his automaton army seem to have vanished, leaving little for Will to focus on besides the engagement of his best friend, Jem, to the love of his life, Tessa. The battle is a welcome distraction until at the end when Jem collapses due to his long-standing illness.

It turns out he has been taking his drugs far too quickly in an attempt to be worthy of Tessa’s love, and he has burned out his entire year’s supply in a matter of weeks. The Magister has bought up all of the remaining drug in the entire city, leaving the shadowhunters at his mercy if they want Jem to live. Tessa is the key to the Magister’s nefarious plot for domination over the shadowhunters he believed have wronged him, but her actual purpose is still a mystery. On top of the threat from the outside, trouble is also brewing for the head of the London Institute, who didn’t turn out to be as compliant and meek as the Consul believed she would be. Internal politics, passionate romance and the threat of utter annihilation combine into a great climax for a wonderful trilogy.

Clockwork Angel Review (Infernal Devices 1)

Clockwork Prince Review (Infernal Devices 2)


Steampunk Book Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864)

It’s time to return again to our regularly scheduled Jules Verne programming. It doesn’t look like I will make my original writing goal for this weekend, but I will hopefully get to 10,000 words by the end of the month, so I will keep posting things after my tribute to Verne is over.

Journey to the Center of the EarthVoyage au centre de la Terre is the third Verne novel I have read, and so far it is my favorite. There are multiple translations and the names of the main characters are different depending on which one you read. I read the version where the narrator is called “Harry Lawson” rather than Axel Lidenbrock. According to Project Gutenberg, this 1871 translation is the one that is most widely circulated, but it is also not as true to the original text as the 1877 version. Apparently what I read was somewhat abridged, but was still about 470 pages.

So here’s a very brief synopsis: Harry starts his story by setting the scene of his life with his eccentric uncle, whom is most often referred to as “the professor.” But the story really gets going when the professor discovers a coded message scrawled in an antique text he has just purchased. The former owner was a 16th century alchemist named Saknussem who left behind directions to the finding the exact center of the Earth.

by Édouard Riou

by Édouard Riou

The enthusiastic professor drags the reluctant Harry along for the ride to Iceland, where Saknussem’s tunnel is located. With the help of a taciturn Icelandic hunter, they embark on an incredible journey of discovery into the depths beneath our feet. Along the way they encounter living fossils from bygone ages, a huge subterranean sea and a multitude of other wonders.

There were two main reasons that I liked this book more than 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days. First, the first-person narration by Harry was often very humorous, especially when it came to his own misgivings and cowardice. Second, this story was not bogged down by minutiae. There were only a few Latin names dropped in here and there, and because Verne was pulling this place out of his imagination rather than reporting on a real locations, it freed him to be able to drive the action any way he pleased. It would be nice to read a version that has gone through a modern editing process to get rid of the redundancies that so often occur in these old serials. For instance, the phrase “my uncle, the professor” occurs several times, and the Icelander is referred to as “Hans, our guide” almost without fail, as if there would be some other Hans wandering around hundreds of miles below the Earth’s crust. I am sure it helped readers of the original serial over the course of the year it took to read the whole thing, but it does get to be a bit repetitive when reading it as a novel.

The science in this book doesn’t stand the test of time quite as well as others from this period, but for when it was written it was right in the middle of the scholarly debate concerning the origins of life on Earth. In the 1860s, academics had only recently abandoned the straight Biblical interpretation of our origins in light of the discovery of fossil hominids in unexpected strata. There were also distinct schools of thought concerning the nature of the planet itself, the inner workings of which were not fully explained until the theory of plate tectonics was put forth almost a century later.

Perhaps this is the reason, not to mention the enormous sets that would be required, that Journey to the Center of the Earth has only rarely been adapted to film and television compared to Verne’s other works. The first film was made in 1959, but it wasn’t remade in English again until the 2008 re-interpretation which put a contemporary uncle (Brendan Fraser) and nephew (Josh Hutcherson) on the path described in Verne’s novel rather than following the narrative as it occurred in 1864.

Enjoy reading this review? Check out some of my others!
The Time Machine
The First Men in the Moon
Soulless
The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack
The Iron Jackal
The Monster Hunter


Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island (2012) Adds Time Travel to the Classic Tale

jules-vernes-mysterious-island-01In this made-for-TV flick part of the mystery of the island comes from relocating it from off the coast of New Zealand to the Bermuda Triangle. According to the movie, ships regularly disappear from this spot because of a rift in time that sucks in travelers. This allows the story to include not only 17th century pirates and refugees from the American Civil War, but also some ladies from the present. I really enjoyed this twist because it was a chance to call attention to how much has changed in the last century and a half. There are culture clashes even between fellow Americans because of advances in technology and social norms.

Ever since the 1961 version, the trend with movie adaptations of The Mysterious Island seems to be to add some kind of creepy critter to up the ante when it comes to danger and action to what is really a pretty subtle story about a group of castaways. In both the 1961 the 2005 version, all of the animals on the island grew to huge proportions. In this one, in addition to a giant octopus blocking their escape by sea, the island is overrun by apelike creatures who (spoiler alert) turn out to be Nemo’s disenfranchised crew.

The writing had a few holes and the acting was pretty hit or miss, but it was a fun movie all the same. I, of course, like “bad” movies so I will probably put with more than your average movie viewer. You can watch it on Netflix or through youtube below.

This mockbuster was made to piggyback on the major motion picture release the same year of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which was a sequel to the big budget Brendan Fraser movie, Journey to the Center of the Earth that came out in 2008. I’ll bring you reviews of those as well, so stay tuned during March for even more Verne and adaptations!


Steampunk Book Review: Soulless (2009)

PrintGail Carriger asks and answers an interesting question in her Parasol Protectorate series: “What if the supernatural was integrated into every day life?” Against the backdrop of Victorian London, the acerbic “spinster”, Alexia Tarrabotti, finds herself in a world that has done just that. Vampires and werewolves have been accepted into society, with some even acting as agents and advisers to the crown.

The supernatural set all have an overabundance of “soul” which allows them to survive the transition to immortal. Alexia, on the other hand, was born without any “soul” at all, which means her touch mitigates the abilities of others. When science meets the supernatural, Alexia finds herself in the middle of scheme to understand the inner workings of the soul, and how to use this knowledge to wipe out the immortals, including her werewolf paramour, forever.

This was a very fun book and I would definitely recommend it. Alexia’s inner monologue made me giggle, especially as she tries to navigate her relationship with the werewolf Alpha. To borrow a phrase from The Princess Bride, this is definitely “a kissing book,” so if you aren’t looking for romance in your Steampunk you might want to steer clear. That being said, I thought the dialog was intelligent and witty, and the world that Carriger creates is extremely entertaining. Starting in 2012, Soulless was also adapted as a graphic novel with artwork by Rem.

I will definitely be picking up Book 2, Changeless.

Have you read any of the Parasol Protectorate books? What did you think?


Steampunk Book Review: Letters Between Gentlemen

Cover art by Tom NimueSometimes, Steampunk books are serious challenges to the ideals of the Victorian age and tread on the dark side, and other times they are silly fun. Letters Between Gentleman, by award-winning “chap hop” artist Professor Elemental and accomplished author Nimue Brown, is most definitely the latter.

As implied by the title, this book is presented as correspondence between the mad genius, Professor Elemental, and his hapless benefactor. The sister of said benefactor is concerned for her brother’s welfare in light of the string of accidental deaths at the hands (mechanical, animal or some combination of the two) of the Professor’s creations. So she hires a private detective, Algernon Spoon, to look into their association. The book is also populated with the Professor’s “Notes to self” on a range of topics including the best way to preserve beheaded badgers and his on-going battle with the mice he trained to take dictation.

The format left a little to be desired, but on the whole I really enjoyed reading this book. I regularly laughed out loud at throughout at the crazy inventions, cease and desist letters from would-be clients and humorously exaggerated gender norms. Some books carry their readers along on a tide of action, but I kept on reading this one because it was purely entertaining.

Letters came out in September of 2014 and is available now as an ebook or hardcover.

If you aren’t familiar with the Professor’s music videos, check out the animated piece featured on Disney’s Phineas and Ferb below, or watch any of several posted on his website.


Steampunk Book Review: The Lost World (1912)

lost-world-arthur-conan-doyle-book-cover-artSherlock Holmes is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous character, but definitely not his only one. I have noticed that some of the newer renditions of Mr. Holmes show him as, at best, suffering from Asberger’s syndrome, and at worst, a monumental jerk. If you have read Conan Doyle’s books, you would know that this is not actually consistent with Sherlock’s character, but it is spot on for the (sometimes) hero of The Lost World, Professor Challenger.

Challenger, like Holmes, is a genius, but he doesn’t spend his time hanging out in London. He is an adventurer, a trail-blazer and a scientist extraordinaire (and doesn’t he know it!) who will use his intellect to thwart his academic enemies, and his fists to back up his intellect. I thoroughly enjoyed his turns of phrase and clever barbs throughout The Lost World even more than the premise of the story itself, and he was a great foil for the young and inexperienced narrator.

Like Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, Conan Doyle explores the prospect of a place that time has left behind. When Challenger’s assertions of its existence are called into question, the National Geographical Society mounts an expedition to investigate his claims that there is a plateau in South America where dinosaurs still roam the earth. And not just dinosaurs! There are all kinds of blasts from the past that have wandered to the secluded spot over the years, some of them remaining unchanged and some of them evolving along a whole new line.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. This is another one that the Mister and I read out loud together and that was a great way to experience it. The dialog between Challenger and his rival scientist, Summerlee, is fantastic, and there were many times I laughed out loud. I also know just enough biology to appreciate the rival points of view and interaction of species. I can’t wait to read the next Professor Challenger title, The Poison Belt.

Have you ever read any Professor Challenger stories? What did you think?


Steampunk Book Review: The Monster Hunter (2014)

Monster Hunter coverKit Cox, also known in Steampunk circles as Major Jack Union, has a new book out on October 23. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy, and it is the perfect way to kick off my Halloween Extravaganza. Where his first book, How to Bag a Jabberwock: A Practical Guide to Monster Hunting, is more of a a how-to for aspiring protectors of the Crown, The Monster Hunter is a novel about a young boy coming of age amidst the threat of these monsters.

Benjamin Jackson Gaul is half-British and half-Indian, but doesn’t fit in to either place. His only real friend growing up is his mother, whom he loses at the tender age of 12 to a terrifying encounter with a mysterious creature despite her obvious, though unexpected, fighting skills. He passes a year in silence, wracked with guilt and questions that his storybooks cannot answer. He knows if he will ever get to the bottom of his mother’s death he will need to learn more than he can in Ceylon, and when offered a chance to move to England he jumps on it. After almost a year on the sailing ship the Hallowe’en, he arrives in 1885 at the Garden Orphanage in Kent, where a strange illness is affecting the children. With the help of a Gypsy girl and armed with books and good intentions he tries to solve the mystery, and finds out more about his mother’s fate along the way. The most important book he possesses is the journal of Major Jack Union, the older brother of his caretaker Nanny Belle, which paves Ben’s way to becoming the next monster hunter.

Jack Union, Photo: Martin Soulstealer.

Jack Union, Photo: Martin Soulstealer.

For an adult, this book won’t take up much more than one long afternoon, but it will be a fun afternoon! At 200 pages and written in simple language, it is best described as a young adult book. This is in no way meant to be a slight, I love YA fiction, and I am happy to find more of it to add to my Steampunk Book list. The opening chapter is extremely well done and the image of monster attack is very strong in my mind and helps compel the reader onward to find answers with the protagonist. I loved accompanying Ben on his journey across the sea and into the wide world that words and books can open a mind to. I just checked Major Jack Union’s facebook page and he recently announced the completion of his second manuscript in the Adventures of Benjamin Gaul series, so you can also be sure there is more to come. I always love a good series 🙂

The Monster Hunter will be released on Amazon on October 23, but you can already order your copy if you want to get it before Halloween.

Happy Hunting!

Have you ever read anything in the Union-verse created by Kit Cox? I’d love to hear what you think!

 


Steampunk Book Review: The Difference Engine

difference_engineA big part of my Steam Tour is finding out about the historical events and people who influenced the time period reflected in Steampunk books. I love the idea of alternate histories, and many times that is at the core of Steampunk novels, such as The Difference Engine by sci-fi greats William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.

If you are like me and you don’t have a good handle on the real history, I would recommend a quick glance at the wikipedia article about this book before you begin it. There is a great summary there of where and how the alternate history of the novel diverge from real events. I didn’t do this before I started reading and I spent a lot of the book wondering about fact and fiction.

 

Trial portion of the Difference Engine No. 1, completed 1832

Trial portion of the Difference Engine No. 1, completed 1832

In short, it tells the tale of the trajectory of the world if the computer age came in the 1800’s. The political structures all over the world are deeply effected by Charles Babbage’s completion of his mechanical computers (called Analytical Engines) in 1824, and there are numerous references to a fragmented United States (including a communist Manhattan) as well as historical figures such as Lord Byron, Ada Byron (the “queen of engines”), and Laurence Oliphant in different roles. The English politicial system has been completely dismantled and a meritocracy put up in place of hereditary lordships. The story is mostly told through the eyes of Edward Mallory, a “savant” who discovers the first huge dinosaur bones, giving him the nickname “Leviathan Mallory.”

There were a lot of things I really liked about this book. The descriptive language was excellent and Ned is a great character on whose coattails to ride through the adventure. I loved the shift in politics in response to technology and the parallels between then and now when it comes to the power of information. The authors clearly put a lot of thought into both logically and imaginatively extending the repercussions of the rise of computer technology long before we experienced it in our timeline.

Babbage later designed a simpler difference engine that was not built until the 20th century, on display at the Computer History Museum

Babbage later designed a simpler difference engine that was not built until the 20th century, on display at the Computer History Museum

On the whole, the story felt a bit fragmented because there are three distinct characters that get followed and the treatment is uneven. The first person you explore this world with is Sybil, and her story comes to an abrupt halt right as it gets really interesting. Then Mallory comes onto the scene and his story is great, but I couldn’t help but wonder where Sybil had gone to. Mallory’s tale comes to a head and he gets what he wants, but he is not actually the agent of change so even though there is a stand-off and big ‘splosions (whoo-hoo!) it felt sort of anticlimactic. Lastly, we trail Mallory’s one-time ally Laurence Oliphant for a little while on his political espionage. Each section was full of wonderful prose, but as a full story it ended up feeling kind of jerky and a bit too long.

That being said, I think it is definitely worth a read for the wonderful writing and imagination of the authors.

 

Have you read this book? What did you think?


Steampunk Book Review: Around the World in 80 Days

I have been “poorly” as they say here in Britain, meaning that I have been under the weather for a few days, so I didn’t make it into the city yesterday as I had planned. But, with all the trains, planes and automobiles lately I have gotten plenty of reading done in anticipation of my upcoming articles for the ezine, so here is a book review to tide you over until I can start posting about London in earnest.

around-the-world-in-eightyI chose to do an in-depth article on Around the World in 80 Days mostly as an excuse to watch the 1956 movie again that I remembered from my childhood, but of course I needed to start with the text itself. I won’t go into a lengthy synopsis here because I will be doing that for my upcoming Sourcebook, so I’ll skip straight to the review.

I really expected to adore this book and it had all the makings of greatness, but all and all I’d say this one isn’t a must-read for a Steampunk or a Jules Verne fan. The voice of the narration is inconsistent and swings between third-person omniscient and totally opaque, especially when it comes to Detective Fix who is pursuing Fogg through his journey on suspicion of bank robbery. I also felt like the action, the real meat of the adventure, was often treated as a footnote with very little description whereas the reader must sit through several pages of Mormon history and detailed itineraries of exactly where their train is stopping. For instance, Passepartout is taken hostage by the Sioux during the trek across America, but all we know if the daring rescue is that Aouda and Fix paced a lot while waiting.

There are definitely gaps that would be fun for an author to try to fill, and indeed Philip Jose Farmer attempted to do just that in his novel The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, which is the next book I will review.


Steampunk Book Review: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

jekyll-and-hyde-cam-kennedy-alan-grant-waverley-booksI have seen several adaptations of R. L. Stevenson’s novella, including an amazing British series called Jekyll that follows one of the not-so-good doctor’s progeny in modern times. One of the amazing parts of the story of this book is how it immediately caught the imaginations of the public and was adapted for the stage within a year of its publication. But I realize recently that I had never actually read the slender tome myself.

Unfortunately, the big reveal that Henry Jekyll (properly pronounced JEE-kill, I recently learned) and Edward Hyde are one and the same is the one part of the tale that is always consistent across all adaptations, so it is impossible for the story to titillate and surprise in the same way it would have been for readers in the 1880s. The idea of a split-personality has long been linked to this piece of literature, and the names of the title characters are part of our vernacular.

BUT, this doesn’t mean the book isn’t worth reading. I really enjoyed Stevenson’s prose, and it is always interesting to return to the source. I surprised to find that in the original that nature of Jekyll’s original “sins” that lead him to want to extricate his two halves from each other are never mentioned, and the details of Hyde’s antics are equally left to the imagination. In order to stretch the story into a full-fledged play or movie the adapters have had to fill in some of these details, which can really alter the tone and nature of Hyde. For instance, in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hyde reveals to Mina that Jekyll occasionally had ‘impure thoughts’ about boys, and his overwrought Christian guilt made him consider himself a great and terrible sinner when really he was a pretty boring and upright citizen.

In the foreword to the collected works of Stevenson in which I read the mere 60-page novella, Claire Harman recounts a story of Stevenson seeing a theatrical adaptation in 1887. He is all but horrified to see Hyde depicted as “an unbridled womanizer” because, as Stevenson wrote to John Paul Bocock, “The hypocrite [Jekyll] let out the beast in Hyde… who is the essence of cruelty & malice… these are the diabolical in man– not his poor wish to love a woman.”

I found the ambiguity in the story itself very intriguing, and it seems ripe for someone to explore not only the exploits of Hyde during his short life, but Jekyll’s past and his other experiments that are only hinted at in the original. I was also surprised to see that the Hyde of the original story is nothing like the huge monster versions in Van Helsing and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but a tiny, young and underdeveloped man who does not have amazing strength, but unbridled passions.


Hustlers, Harlots and Heroes is a Must-Have Resource for any Steampunk Author

Harlots_frontAs part of my preparation for Steam Tour I picked up a great little reference volume by historian/geek Krista A. Ball. Hustlers, Harlots and Heroes: A Steampunk and Regency Fieldguide tells the story of the untold, the people who populate your Steampunk imaginings but are rarely the focal point. She brings you the inside scoop on the maids, footmen and even your friendly neighborhood knocker-upper (think alarm clock with a stick) to offer readers and writers a window into how the 99% really lived during the Regency and Victorian eras.

Ball’s first reference book, What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank, also sounds like a lot of fun, but so far I have only read Hustlers. Both books include recipes that you will want to make at home (and some like tooth paste made from cuttlefish that you’d never EVER want to try) in addition to some great background information and delicious tidbits to add depth and interest to your own Steampunk projects.

Let me know if you have any ideas for other reference books I should read before Steam Tour starts in August! I finally got a reliable internet connect here in Greece so I hope to go back to posting more often and letting you know all the amazing Steampunkery that is to come.


Steampunk Book Review: The Iron Jackal

The Iron Jackal Cover

The Iron Jackal Cover

When I started writing For Whom The Gear Turns I thought maybe, just maybe, someday a literary agent would contact me and offer me a free book to read and review. You can imagine my surprise when after only blogging for 6 months it happened! I worried a little that this would color my view of The Iron Jackal (Book 3 of The Tales of the Ketty Jay), especially after the giddy rush I got from opening the package when it arrived. But in the end, it gave me a giddy rush all on its own.

Chris Wooding has been writing the Tales of the Ketty Jay for several years, he is all the way through Book 5 in the UK. But, it was his US agent who contacted me, and told me that they were going to start with Book 3 for the American release on June 1. I was a bit skeptical about starting in the middle of a series, but it meant being dropped into a fully formed and complex world that was a joy to explore and made me even more interested to go back and read the earlier books. There are airship pirates, complicated relationships, daemon-imbued walkie talkies and multi-faceted cultural and political systems that overlap and contradict in a very realistic way. What’s NOT to like?

This tale focuses on the captain of Ketty Jay, Frey, but the story is told through the eyes of the entire crew as they take turns enriching the story with their insights and foibles. It all starts when this rag-tag band is enlisted by Frey’s “its complicated,” Trinica the pirate queen, to steal an artifact of unknown origin and purpose off of a moving train. It reminded me a little of one of my all-time favorite episodes of Firefly, only I really doubt that Frey would ever return the goods like Malcolm Reynolds no matter what they are. In this case, the artifact turns out to be a weapon that seems both ancient and futuristic at the same time, but when Frey lets his ego get the best of him and lifts it from its case the real adventure begins. The weapon pricks his palm and leaves behind the most dreaded of pirate iconography, “the black spot.”

As scary as the Kraken is, I think the daemon that pursues the bearer of the spot in Wooding’s world is even more terrifying. The Iron Jackal is a sinister amalgamation of flesh, machine and the bearer’s darkest secrets and most painful regrets. Frey is haunted by the voice of a man he left to die and the eyes of the woman he abandoned to pursue his life of piracy. But even with his dark past, his loyal crew will stop at nothing to help their captain return the artifact to its resting place to save his life and the family they have built aboard the Ketty Jay. If only they knew where that resting place was…

I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a fun read, but doesn’t mind some moral ambiguity. Frey is by no means a “good guy” by nature, but his Archer-like humor and quest for redemption in Trinica’s eyes make him a very compelling hero. The rest of the crew also gets to be fully-formed people with loves, losses and secrets all their own, so in the end it is really an ensemble piece rather than a story just about Frey. There are some nuances of the political issues that I am sure that I have missed because of not reading the earlier books, but it still definitely holds together as a stand-alone novel and a great place to start exploring Wooding’s work.